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A shift in position

November 22, 2009 3 comments

Last week, eyebrows were raised over yet another media appearance by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Rao Bhagwat. This time, the fuss centred on his categorical public announcement that the next national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be a Delhi-based leader, and that L.K. Advani would soon relinquish his post as leader of the Opposition. Fortuitously for the Indian foreign policy establishment, his prognosis that Pakistan and Afghanistan “are a part of us and will return one day” did not arouse corresponding attention. (via The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | A shift in position).

From Ashvakan to Afghans

The task of subduing the Afghan, (a possibly corrupt form of Ashvakan, meaning horse specialists in Sanskrit), from the time of Alexander  to the latest Russian and American misadventures in Afghanistan underscores, the nature of the Indo-Afghan relationship. From the time of Tomyris (Thamyris), when Indian elephant units helped the Afghans to massacre Persian invaders under Cyrus the Great, or when the Afghans hopelessly tied up Alexander.

Alexander’s Indo-Afghan campaign ‘gave him the runs’ (dysentery), his soldiers deserted him in droves, he had to make a marriage alliance, pay nearly 1000 talents (25,000 kg in gold) for an alliance, his dear horse Bucephalus died, he was himself injured twice, made to release prisoners (without a ransom).

End result – he massacred defenceless non-combatant populations and armies alike, when ‘opportunities’ presented themselves.Why did Genghis Khan 'spare' India ...

Islamic ‘conquest’ of India

While Islamic armies were marauding Europe, Central Asia, Africa, India held out. When Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies were running rampant, Islamic refugees found shelter in India, during the reign of Iltutmish. In 1221 Genghis Khan‘s Mongol armies pushed Khwarezm-Shah and other Persian refugees across the Indus into the Punjab, India.

During early Islamic rule, when India was still viewed as militarily difficult target, the Mongols did not think of attacking India.  Remember, that the Mongols attempted to invade Japan, a rather poor country then, without the Sado gold mines! The Japanese blessed their good fortune, when typhoons or (‘The Divine Wind” is what the grateful Japanese called) the Kamikaze, that scattered the Mongol invasion fleet in 1274 and 1281. The Kublai Khan himself barely escaped the fury of the typhoon during the second invasion.

India, the richest economy of the world at that time, with known and famous for its wealth, was spared by Genghis Khan! Just why would history’s foremost looter, invader, pillager spare India?

The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, ink and water on paper, by Kikuchi Y'sai, 1847

The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, ink and water on paper, by Kikuchi Y'sai, 1847

Encyclopedia Britannica says Fortunately, the Mongols were content to send raiding parties no further than the Salt Range (in the northern Punjab region), which Iltutmish wisely ignored …” (emphasis mine). As Indian military reputation waned under foreign Islamic rule, the Mongols mounted a military expedition. The Mongols could succeed in India only under the foreign rule of the much-derided Islamic Tughlaks.

End of foreign Islamic rule

The 200-year foreign-Islamic rule from 1206 AD to 1400 AD ended when Ibrahim Lodi, an Afghan horse trader, cobbled together an alliance and sent the incompetent foreign rulers packing. The Lodis, were in turn deposed by another Afghan family, the Mughals.

The Mughals realized, early on, that freedom to Indians was non-negotiable – and enlisted Indian generals, kings, allies to expand their boundaries. The depredations of the foreign ‘Islamic’ rulers were partly reversed by these rulers of Afghan extract – with land reforms, tax reforms, reduction in forceful conversions, et al. The Lodis and Mughals partially reformed the Indic political model – deformed beyond recognition, during the 200 years of foreign Islamic rule. Land holdings remained concentrated in a few hands. Taxes were imposed and increased on the trading classes. Licenses and firmaans were reduced – but remained.

In the last 200 years

The only people who could win against the Afghans were the Indians – last under Ranjit Singhji. The British, and more recently, the Russians and Americans have failed miserably. British possessions of Afghanistan and Balochistan, which were handed to Pakistan on a platter, were a part of the Sikh-Punjab Empire, which fell into the British lap.

Kabuliwala - The movie posterTill about 1960’s India-Afghanistan trade and relations were close and neighbourly. Rabindranath Tagore wrote the short story, ‘Kabuliwalla’. Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from Colonial Raj imprisonment during WW2, using the Afghan route to reach Germany finally.

In early 1970s, in Hyderabad,  कागजी बेदाना अनार (seedless pomegranates) from Kabul, were available at around Rs.4 a kg – at today’s value is about Rs.100 a kg (based on gold prices). Local varieties were sold at less than Rs.1 a kg.

Between 1950 to the post-1973, Nixon Chop world, saw increasing of walls, barriers, battening down of national boundaries. Marxism-Communism seemed relentless and inevitable. Closed economies were seen as the panacea of all problems. Trade was a dirty word. During this period, something momentous happened – a complete and total closure of the Indian mind. India’s international profile underwent a profound change. Indians, who earlier saw the world as a their stage, suddenly retreated into a shell.

Right and wrong

So, yes RSS view is right.

India and Pakistan are a part of the Indic family. What this means is to see Pakistan and Afghanistan not as troublesome neighbours, but as prospective future allies. The Indian political construct was always to surround the Indian heartland by buffer states – like Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was not to take over these countries and expand into an unwieldy land mass.

Akhand Bharat ...?

So, when RSS, dreams of an Akhand Bharat, they are wrong. The idea of Bharat was value driven and not power-driven or ruler driven. What Bharat needs to focus on is not to create an Akhand Bharat, but a real Bharat, which will become a model for other countries, especially of the Greater India.

Back to the future

But the Indic model was never to have one king who ruled over others. The Indic model allowed for smaller kingdoms to compete for populations – based on opportunities, freedom, equity. Land holdings in the hands of the populations remained a unique Indian feature for thousands of years – and the West saw this feature only in the last 150-250 years. Religious restrictions in India were not even discussed – unlike the Desert Bloc where the ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’ principle (meaning whose land, his religion; CRER) was established.

In the Desert Bloc, the land, the religion and the very life of all subjects belonged to the king – unlike in India. And that is the Akhand Bharat that we all need to work for!

कागजी बेदाना अनार

Radically rethinking Indian agriculture – Sanjeev Sanyal

July 9, 2009 7 comments

In recent weeks, there have been growing apprehensions that the monsoons of 2009 will fall short of normal. This has again raised fears of rising food prices, collapse in rural incomes and possibly farmer suicides. Many a tear will be shed for rural India. Predictably, there will calls for greater support for the agriculture sector in the form of subsidised fertilisers/pesticides, cheap electricity for pumping ground water and farm loan waivers. We have been doing this now for generations now and our impoverished farmers still commit suicide. Surely, it’s time to rethink this strategy. (via Sanjeev Sanyal: Radically rethinking agriculture).

The Good …

Sanjeev Sanyal’s article does raise some interesting points – and usual points. After a promising start he then loses his way half way through.

He demolishes the idea that “the route to prosperity in rural India lies in accelerating farm production. Agriculture … contributes 16.5 per cent of the economy … great exertion … cannot … (make it) grow much more than 3 per cent per annum on a sustained basis (when the rest of the economy routinely does 7-8 per cent).”

He correctly points out that “India … produces enough food to feed itself but … 20 per cent of output is wasted (a) problem … of distribution and storage, (and with) population growth is now 1.6 per cent per year … we need to grow production by no more than this rate. … we should … slow agricultural growth … if we do not want … greater wastage or a structural price decline …a buffer for drought years … is better management of bumper crops rather than ever more production. India should shift focus from increasing agricultural production to improving its efficiency (with) investment(s) … in storage and distribution.”

His best one is the warning that “farming comes with a large environmental cost … the Green Revolution is anything but “green”. Current farming techniques are severely damaging to the environment through the depletion of ground water, conversion of forest land and over-use of pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals … sacrificing the long-term viability of the farm sector. It … made sense in the ‘70s to force a level-shift in food-grain production but why should we be still sacrificing the food security of future generations?”

He reminds us that “it makes … sense to strictly conserve ground water and use it only when the monsoons fail. Special attention should be given to water management (as opposed to extraction). Agriculture consumes 80 per cent of the country’s fresh-water in order to produce just 16.5 per cent of GDP … poor use of a scarce resource.”

The Bad …

Do we need this Great American Dream

Do we need this "Great American Dream"

After such good work, he succumbs to the banal – with some usual conclusions. He thinks that,

very large investments in water systems are needed to maintain even the current growth path.

Large investments in water systems are a bad, imported idea. India’s successful water management model is the nearly local 500,000 water bodies – ponds, lakes, anicuts, barrages, bunds, talabs, bawlees, wells. These water bodies stored surface water – and sustained Indian agriculture for the last 2000 years. Post-colonial India’s quest for Nehruvian “temples of modern India” spurred huge and wasteful investment in large hydro-electric dams. Reviving Indian water systems and rivers will take some 10 years and Rs.25,000 crores. About the cost of two large dams.

With around 70 per cent of the population still in the villages, it is absurd to hope that such a small and slow-growing part of the economy can bring salvation to such a large population.

US agricultural subsidies

US agricultural subsidies

Mr.Sanyal, you should consider the following, before you make such a sweeping statement. With the declining power and use of the dollar, the US is fighting a losing battle against agricultural subsidies. The US depends on less than 50,000 corporate ‘farmers’ for 50% of ts production. These corporate ‘farmers’ will abandon agriculture at the first sign of reduced subsidies. Over the next 20-30 years, this leaves India (and Russia) to cater to global food shortfalls. The Western industrial model is in its sunset phase. The Indian agricultural model can be the big winner in the next few decades – under the right stewardship.

And in the meantime, he himself follows up with an observation, “studies by economists like Dipankar Gupta suggest, non-agricultural activity already accounts for around half of rural India’s economy and provides employment to 35-45 per cent of the rural workforce.”

Third, encouraging agricultural growth for exports in not a viable option for India. Export of agricultural products is tantamount to export of water. International trade may make sense for some niche products like tea or for managing natural cycles in food-stocks. However, it cannot be a central strategy for a water-starved country like India. It is especially careless to be thinking about exporting water when climate change may be putting even current supplies at risk.

As pointed out earlier, both water management and agricultural exports is something that is both feasible and sensible thing to do. This is something that India must prepare itself for.

The truly ugly

Meanwhile, policies should be aimed at encouraging the process of moving the rural economy away from agriculture.

Broke ... and Broke

Broke ... and Broke

The Ikshavaku clan, (of Ramchandra in the Ramayana fame), became a ruling family for developing the agricultural strain of sugarcane. Bhagwan Krishna came to be known as Natho, for domesticating wild bulls. Balarama is the 7th avataar of Vishnu - whose ‘weapon’ was the plough – the founder of Indian agricultural practice.

The Indian agriculturist has made a remarkable recovery after the colonial collapse – and he may still surprise you.

The aspirations of rural India have already shifted — the literate children of subsistence farmers want real jobs, not pesticides. Why should we stop them? However, this requires a big shift in policy mindset. For instance, we need to shift from a regime of cheap but irregular power supply (which may work for irrigation) to one that is fully-priced but regular (necessary for the non-farm sector). This is our best bet for making India drought-resistant.

After ceaseless bombardment of advertising, with Indian languages weakening due to massive Government subsidies to English language education, is the movement to urban lifestyle a surprise? Not to me Mr.Sanyal. Though, why you are surprised, Mr.Sanyal is a puzzle to me. We need to invest in rural India. Currently rural credit is way below its contribution to GDP – and the low price realizations for agricultural output makes the case for investments stronger.

Next, we need to revisit general governance in rural India. The traditional structures may have worked for subsistence farming (even this is debatable) but they will not support large investments in industry, construction and services. The government needs to focus on how to deliver policing, enforcement of contracts, property rights and so on.

This is about shifting from a world of farm-loan waivers to one that can support large-scale mobilisation and investment of capital in these areas. The Naxalite movement that affects a fourth of India is not due to the failure of agriculture but the failure of governance. At the same time, note that the cause of property rights and governance is not served by the indiscriminate use of “eminent domain” to acquire large chunks of land for so-called SEZs.

Do we need this American model?

Do we need this American model?

When you refer to ‘traditional structures’, are you talking about ‘general governance’ of the colonial Raj – that post-colonial India continued with? Or are you talking about the pre-Raj structures? The Indian peasant was the first and the only peasant in the world to own his property – till ‘Desert Bloc’ rulers started a 800 year trend of ‘landgrab’. Yes. India does need to re-visit ‘general governance’! We need traditional governance – and not the ‘modern’ colonial baggage, that India has not discarded.

We need to give back the lands that were grabbed from the poor Indian peasant and the poor Indian tribal.

The need is for a framework of governance that allows industry and services to grow organically in response to local conditions.

Finally, there should be a greater effort to provide urban amenities for education, health, shopping and leisure at places that are accessible to the rural hinterland. Together with the shift to non-farm jobs, this provision of amenities will inevitably lead to urbanisation. This is a good thing and should be encouraged. However, urbanisation is not just about migration to the mega-cities of Delhi and Mumbai … mofussil towns need to be revived as social and economic hubs

Indian agriculture has a great future – and don’t you ignore it, Mr.Sanyal. On the other hand, industrial over-production, debt-financed over-consumption, American economic model, funded by petro-dollars /Sino-dollars, is about to end.

India cannot go down that path.

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